Welcome to my blog!

News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave

Monday, 28 September 2020

Afghans onto the tabletop

The latest pandemic measures in Scotland means face to face gaming in the house is on hold for the present, so it's back to Zoom. Just as I have finished the Afghans and was looking to get them on the tabletop. 10mm isn't the best scale for Zoom games, but we managed.

Last week's painting added cavalry, infantry and guns to the Afghan orbat. All the figures are from the Pendraken range. First, we have a tribal cavalry unit. On Saturday night I watched the film 12 Strong, which is about a US special forces unit attached to the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban after 9/11. If you substituted an AK47 for the muskets, these figures wouldn't be out of place today.

Two field guns and two more rifle units complete the army, although I probably have enough figures left for another tribal infantry unit.



 For the game, we used The Men Who Would Be Kings rules with 33 points a side, somewhat larger than the standard game. I decided on a Second Afghan War scenario. The British have to break through the pass. 

Learning from their mistakes in the First Afghan War, the British aimed to capture the high ground before attacking the pass.


An Afghan counter-attack by infantry and then cavalry was easily beaten off by volley fire.


That allowed the British cavalry to complete the rout and capture the pass.


A fun, short game, just what a Dan Mersey set of rules is designed to deliver.


Saturday, 26 September 2020

God's Shadow: The Ottoman Sultan Who Shaped the Modern World

 This is Alan Mikhail's new book about Selim 1, sometimes known as Selim the Grim or Selim the Resolute, the Ottoman Sultan from 1512 to 1520. In western historiography, he tends to be eclipsed by his son, Suleyman the Magnificent. This is probably because his focus was the Middle East rather than Europe. However, he nearly tripled the size and population of the Ottoman Empire in his short rule, and so deserves greater attention.

Selim was a younger son of Bayezit II, which meant he was destined for a short life once his older brother took the throne. His father favoured his older brother but Selim from his base as governor of Trabzon revolted against his father and forced him from the throne, killing his other brothers. 

His experience in the east gave him a focus against the Persian Safavids and he led several successful campaigns against them, including the decisive Battle of Chaldiran. The Safavids had brought Shia Islam to Persia and Selim was a devout Sunni. He also persecuted Shias within the Empire. For Selim, the Venetians, Spanish and Genoese were secondary enemies, the paramount enemy was the heretic Safavids who offered an alternative vision of Muslim power.

Having defeated the Safavids he turned his attention to the waning Mameluk Empire. His victory at Marj Dabiq (near Aleppo) in August 1516 enabled the conquest of Syria and the Levant, including Jerusalem. The Battle of Raidanayya in January 1517 opened the way to Cairo and the conquest of Egypt down to the Indian Ocean. In Yemen, Selim’s army found coffee. Few people, at least in the West, quite appreciates that an Ottoman sultan made coffee the global phenomenon it is today.

This led to the further expansion of the Empire along the coast of North Africa supported by the Barbarossa brothers. This brought him into conflict with Spain and he died before attempting the invasion of Morocco and the Spanish enclaves on the coast. So, by this huge expansion of the Empire, it was Selim who created the imperial infrastructure that allowed Suleyman to become one of the most significant sultans in Ottoman history.

Mikhail also argues that Selim caused the Spaniards and English to look towards the Americas for colonial expansion. Columbus and John Smith both fought the Ottomans and many of the Conquistadores ended their careers fighting the Ottomans in North Africa. He even argues that had Selim lived, he would have challenged Spain in the Americas and the Portuguese in Africa. He makes a link between modern-day hostility towards Islam in the West to Selim's expansion in the 16th century.  

This is a great book on a lesser-known Sultan whose achievements were indeed enormous. I am less convinced about the 'shaped the modern world' argument, but I see the link. Well worth a read and when you drink your next cup of coffee, say thanks to Selim!

Support from the Janissaries was crucial to Selim gaining power.

   
Persian Safavid cavalry

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Agent Cicero - Hitler's most successful spy.

This is Mark Simmons’ take on the story of Agent Cicero, who was arguably Germany’s most successful spy in WW2. Cicero was the code name for an Albanian, Elyesa Bazna, who was the British Ambassador to Turkey, Sir Hughe Katchbull-Hugessen’s valet. I have read the memoirs of his German handler, Ludwig Moyzisch, which was largely confirmed by the German Ambassador Von Papen. However, this book takes a wider look including the now released US and British files.



Given that this was wartime and Turkey was a nest of spies, it seems quite astonishing that Basna was employed without any serious checks being made on his background. Helped by the fact he was a ‘walk-in’ spy motivated by money, rather than a trained spy. The Germans, at least in Berlin, thought he might be a British plant, but the quality of the documents he copied from the Ambassador’s box persuaded most that he was genuine. However, power struggles in the German hierarchy undermined the use of the material, and they drew the wrong conclusions or took no action.

The most important documents were the minutes of the big wartime conferences, including Moscow, Cairo, Tehran and Casablanca. It may also have helped with breaking some minor codes and certainly helped gain a better understanding of Turkey’s position on entering the war. In particular, it undermined deception operations that aimed to persuade the Germans that the allies might land in the Balkans. Even the planned date of Operation Overlord was disclosed through this route.

The Germans largely paid Basna in forged notes. These were printed by forgers based in a concentration camp (Operations Andrea and Bernhard), which were originally aimed at undermining economies but later were used for intelligence operations. There use resulted in two agents being captured in Egypt and a double agent was parachuted into England with notes that still had bands stamped ‘Reichsbank Berlin’ on them. These were elementary errors that add to the poor reputation of German intelligence in WW2.

There was an attempt to cover up the failure of security by claiming Basna was a double agent. This is clearly untrue and MI6 later admitted ‘the potential damage was enormous’.

The story of Cicero has been told by Basna himself in his 1961 memoirs as well as by the key players, Moyzisch and Von Papen. Given his dismal failure to follow basic security procedures, Sir Hughe understandably avoided mentioning it in his own memoirs or later! The excellent film Five Fingers, starring James Mason, is largely based on the Moyzisch account, and there are links to other works of fiction including From Russia With Love and the Guns of Navarone.

This book takes an objective look at the story using a range of sources. It also makes a very good read about what was Germany’s greatest intelligence success of the war.




Saturday, 19 September 2020

Afghans and the British army in India.

 I am a bit behind on the painting schedule having spent a very pleasant week away in the Lake District. However, the first Afghan tribesmen are now done. These are 10mm figures from Pendraken, which I will use against my Zulu and Boer War British for the 2nd and 3rd Afghan Wars. I will use The Men Who Would Be Kings rules.

First up a unit of tribesmen.


Then two units of irregular infantry. This is the first time I have used a white primer for a very long time. I found a very old tin of GW Skull White in the garage, which surprisingly worked the first time.




For reading inspiration, I picked Britain's Army in India by James Lawford off my to-read shelf. It has been gathering dust there for some time. 

It isn't directly relevant to the Afghan Wars because it covers the early British presence in India. From the early guard units in the East India Company warehouses, up to the Battle of Buxar in 1764. It is a detailed narrative history of the campaigns with quite a bit on how the Sepoy and European units were organised and deployed. As well as the varied Indian armies of the period. The Mughal Empire operated in name only during this period, and there is a bewildering array of Indian armies to choose from.

I have suitable figures for this period in 28mm as GDWS did several display games a few years back. The Indian armies are very colourful, although I recall some very late nights finishing them in time for the first show. Those were the days!






Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Soldier of the Queen

 This is the first in Max Hennessy's fictional series on the Goff family. It is set in the second half of the 19th century and the hero is Colby Goff, an officer in the 19th Lancers based in Yorkshire. Not a bad choice for a fictional regiment as the 19th Light Dragoons did convert into lancers in 1816, although they were disbanded in 1821, long before this book begins. 


So, where to start a book about British lancers? Balaclava 1854 of course, where the young Goff is with the Light Brigade in the Crimea. He of course survives, albeit wounded. A recovery back in the family home at Braxby (actual place by the way) in Yorkshire and some, well described, but routine regimental duties. 

Partly to avoid the marriage advances of a local girl, he is off to America as a correspondent with the Morning Post to follow the American Civil War. He starts on the Union side and then moves to the Confederate cavalry of Jeb Stuart. He gets a bit hands-on for a British officer, but it makes a better read!

Back home after another wound, he meets the up and coming General Garnet Wolseley who sends him to France to observe the Franco-Prussian War. He manages to get to both sides and ends up in the massive cavalry battle at Mars-la-Tour. Later he is in the Paris Commune. If this all sounds a little unlikely, it actually isn't. British, and other nations, officers in the late 19th century often swanned about Europe turning up in other people's wars. A number wrote books or at least articles on their adventures.

Back home he followed Wolseley to the Ashanti Uprising becoming one of his famous 'ring' of acolytes. I was hoping he might turn up in the Russo-Turkish War next. However, instead, he was off to South Africa to take on the Zulus. 

This is an entertaining romp around 19th century warfare. Not a bad nighttime read with just enough facts to make the fiction bearable. I can't say I will follow this series through but not a bad read.

I sold off my Crimean war figures some time ago. However, the Zulus are a project half completed after my visit to Zululand last year, and the lancers are done.




Thursday, 10 September 2020

Rebels on the Niagara

 This is a book by Lawrence Cline that I picked up on my visit to Canada last year. It covers the Fenian Brotherhood's invasion of Canada in 1866. There was a further effort in 1870, which together make up the last invasion of Canada.

The Fenian Brotherhood was a large membership organisation in the USA, largely made up of recent immigrants and those of Irish descent, committed to supporting Irish independence. After the American Civil War, a significant number of Irish Americans had gained military experience and the Brotherhood decided that this could be put to good use with an invasion of Canada to put pressure on the British Empire. At this time Canada had not become the confederation it is today, and the colonies were organised separately. 

The book explains the various debates that took place amongst the organisation, which resulted in splits and some disorganisation, as well as a shortage of funds to finance the invasion. Whilst they had significant political support in Congress and elsewhere, which chased the Irish vote, the US government was not supportive. Diplomatic relations, which had been strained during the Civil War, was fairly positive. 

Gathering weapons was not a huge problem in the USA given the gun ownership laws and culture. This didn't stop the US authorities from making some efforts to impound weapons. Both sides gathered intelligence, both in Canada and the USA. The Brotherhood was infiltrated by spies and even in the USA, it is difficult to hide gatherings and drilling of armed men. The actual movement of troops is even more difficult to hide, not that many of the participants made much effort when it came to security. Trains bound for the border were full of men drinking, singing Fenian fight songs, bragging and generally showing little concern for security.

The Fenian strategy was, to put it mildly, ambitious. They planned multiple incursions, an approach that well-trained armies of the period would have found challenging.  Communication problems were exacerbated by no access to the telegraph or railway systems. Little attention was paid to logistics, hoping to live off the land, which given the military experience of the commanders, seems very strange. It is important to emphasise that the plan was to seize and hold territory, not simply to raid.

The main attack was in the Niagara area and had some early success at the 'Battle' of Ridgeway when the Canadian militia launched a premature attack on the Fenian forces. Really just a skirmish with casualties on either side in single figures. However, as the colonial authorities got their act together, and the promised Fenian reinforcements failed to arrive, they decided to fall back on the disused Fort Erie. The remaining force was evacuated by ship, only to be captured and arrested by the US authorities. A further invasion was tried in 1870, this time in Quebec province. It was halted by a better prepared Canadian militia at Eccles Hill.  

While the invasion had a minimal impact on Irish independence, it was a factor in driving the confederation of Canada in 1867.

This is an interesting story but I think I can manage to avoid an outbreak of wargamers disease over this campaign. There is a board game from Last Legion if you are so minded.

A few pictures of Fort Erie as it is preserved today.






 


Monday, 7 September 2020

Fighting in Hell

 This is another book that has been sitting on my 'to read' shelf for some time. Edited by Peter Tsouras, he uses a number of studies written by former German generals for the US Army after WW2. The focus in this book is officers who had extensive experience of the eastern front. They are written by Germans and from a German point of view, translated but not interpreted by American personnel. They provide an interesting insight into combat on this front.


The main study is written by Erhard Rauss on Russian combat methods, followed by his views on the effect climate had on combat in European Russia. The other studies are on warfare in the far north and combat in forests and swamps.

One of the biggest surprises, to me at least, was how ill-prepared the German military was for fighting in the East. The General Staff had taken no interest in the history of wars in the north and east of Europe. I naively assumed their much-vaunted efficiency would have included the possibility that German troops might at some stage be required to fight in these regions. At the very least you would have thought some hurried work would have been commissioned in late 1940 when Hitler first indicated that he was considering such a move.

This is vital because, as General Rauss puts it, 'he who steps for the first time on Russian soil is immediately conscious of the new, the strange, the primitive. The German soldier who crossed into Russian territory felt that he entered a different world, where he was opposed not only by the forces of the enemy but also by the forces of nature."

Putting to one side the racial stereotypes that you might expect from a German officer of the period, these are fairly objective studies, albeit omitting the atrocities they also committed. All the Russian tactics are covered, supplemented by examples from actual operations. These include a number that I have never heard of, including the practice of setting large areas of forest on fire. One German brigade was nearly wiped out by a fire on the Luga River in 1941.

Like the editor, the description of the fighting in the snow reminded me of Laurence Oliver's haunting commentary in the World at War television series. I haven't read much about the war in the far north, the Continuation War, in Finland. Apparently no German tank or self-propelled gun ever saw service north of the Arctic Circle. The description of how the German troops adapted to the conditions is fascinating, as is the way the Russians had learned from their mistakes in the earlier war.

This is not your usual narrative military history book. The focus is on tactics and logistics, both on land and in the air. A rare insight into the mechanics of fighting in what really must have been hell for the soldiers on both sides.



Sunday, 6 September 2020

Libertad!

 Rob Anderson and Mark Fry have written this supplement ('Libertad' is 'freedom' in English) for the Blitzkrieg Commander rules covering the Spanish Civil War. You will need the core rules as well to use this supplement. It is available as a 35 page PDF download from Wargames Vault for $6.60.

There are a few rule amendments to reflect specific features of this conflict including fixed formations and improvised street barricades. They have simplified the bewildering array of armoured cars that were deployed by both sides into those with and without AT capability and the rest. There is also a rule for Molotov Cocktails.

Then we get five scenarios with some very nice maps drawn by Henry Hyde. These include some well known and lesser actions.

The meat of the supplement is the army lists, which include all the many factions that made up both the Nationalist (Rebels) and Republican (Government) armies. These include a brief description of the faction and then the Blitzkrieg Commander statistics. They also have a few special rules and equipment.

There are plenty of excellent books on this conflict to expand your reading. More recently these have included books that focus on the military history of the war. Charles Esdaile’s ‘The Spanish Civil War: A Military History’ is a recent contribution, and Alexander Clifford 'The People's Army in the Spanish Civil War', which focuses on the wider People's Army, not just the International Brigades. I have seen a positive review of a new book by Giles Tremlett 'The International Brigades' in the latest edition of the BBC History magazine. Their History extra podcasts also have the prolific SCW author Paul Preston being interviewed in their series 'Everything you wanted to know...."

I have 15mm and 28mm armies for the Spanish Civil War. The 15mm armies were initially based for a similar Flames of War supplement but work equally well for Blitzkrieg Commander. You can, of course, use Italian WW2 forces and tanks from early war German and Soviet forces. No Pasaran!








Saturday, 5 September 2020

Anglo-Afghan Wars 1839-1919

 A bit of a break from WW2 with a book that has been sitting on my reading shelf for some time. Not that I wasn't interested, it's just that it might spark a burst of wargamers disease and I have quite enough projects!


Warfare in and on the borders of Afghanistan during the period and beyond was common. However, there are three specific campaigns covered in this book - 1839-42, 1878-81 and 1919. As the author puts it, "The wars were marked by varying degrees of political and military incompetence and brilliance". Most of them were also unnecessary, as the causes had often disappeared by the time troops were dispatched, and diplomacy would have been a better solution.

The First Afghan War is probably the best known, not least because of the outstanding paintings, many of which can be seen in the National Army Museum. This is a good example of incompetence, exemplified by the retreat from Kabul in January 1842. A force of 690 regulars, 3,800 sepoys and sowars, and 12,000 camp followers attempted to fight their way through the mountains of Afghanistan in winter. One doctor survived to reach Jalalabad. The painting of the last stand of the 44th (East Essex) Regiment at Gandamak says it all.  

The Second Afghan War was shaped by the 'Great Game', played out between Russia and Britain over Central Asia. Not for the first time, colonial administrators reverted to military action when diplomacy would have delivered the buffer states that both sides needed. Militarily this conflict involved a regular army on the Afghan side, including 62 regiments of infantry, supplemented by the traditional irregular tribesmen. The British had learned some lessons from earlier conflicts and had learned to capture the high ground before sending long columns through the infamous passes. The signature disaster was the Battle of Maiwand on 22 July 1880. 

The Third Afghan War, and probably the least well known, was fought just after WW1 when most of the best units of the Indian Army had been fighting elsewhere. British units were mostly territorial replacements who understandably wanted to go home, not fight in Afghanistan. In addition, the local militias largely collapsed. The British made up for this with technology. Not just artillery and machine guns, but aircraft. The Afghan 'invasion' of India was repulsed, although they gained their key demands in the peace treaty. 

A particular strength of this book is the way it brings out the common themes in the campaigns. The Afghan geography and distribution of its people, as well as the climate that ranges from sub-zero in winter to 110F in summer. This breeds a particularly tough people, made up of many different tribes with little love of central government, particularly when it is imposed on them from outside the country.

These are challenges that still face modern armies, as the Soviets and NATO have found. 

Needless to say, I have been powerless to stop another outbreak of wargamers disease. Having painted British armies for the Zulu and Boer Wars, I can do most of the Imperial side. An order has been placed with Pendraken for hordes of Afghan tribesmen - plenty of white paint will be required!







Friday, 4 September 2020

Operation Hardihood

My painting this week has been focused on the 1943 reinforcements for the Turkish Army - my latest project in 15mm. 

Operation Hardihood was the British code name for support to Turkey in 1943 in the form of British formations, military equipment and broader economic assistance. The equipment provided was in response to a very long list of Turkish requirements, which one American official in Ankara said, to supply the Turks with everything they wanted would be like ‘feeding an eight course dinner to an eight-day-old baby’. Churchill urged his planners to do their best to supply the Turks even if this caused some ‘slight indigestion’. He argued that Turkey’s port and transportation systems would limit what could be supplied.

The Allied Lend Lease equipment supplied to Turkey as part of this programme would largely come from surplus stocks in North Africa. I have chosen the main ones for my army, using 3D models from Butlers Printed Models, supplemented with crew from Peter Pig and Battlefront conversions. The models require a fair bit of cleaning up, although most of the spare material from the process peels away quite quickly using plyers. You are left with robust models for the tabletop and very little assembly.

First up are the Valentine III and Valentine IX tanks. These became the main battle tank of the Turkish army with 230 supplied in total. They equipped the armoured brigades facing a possible German and Bulgarian invasion through Thrace.

Next, some support from the USA in the form of 25 Sherman tanks and 222 Stuarts, which were used for the light tank companies of the armoured brigades.

150 Dingo scout cars were provided for the reconnaissance companies, along with 59 Bren carriers and a large number of jeeps and other trucks.

One of the biggest gaps in Turkish capabilities was anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. The British supplied significant numbers of 6pdr ATGs and 40mm Bofors AA guns. Had Turkey entered the war these would have been supplemented by Allied units. 


The Turkish army had a multiplicity of artillery pieces, mostly of WW1 vintage. The towed 25pdr and the Bishop SPG went to the armoured brigades first.


The British provided extensive training on these weapons. However, training reports indicated that only about 20% of this was actually absorbed. Providing modern equipment was unlikely to be enough to turn the Turkish army into an effective fighting force. A view interestingly shared by the Turkish CinC in a report to the Turkish political leadership.

One of the achievements of Turkish policy was the ability to secure military equipment from both sides. In September 1942 Turkey was granted a loan of 100 million Reichsmarks for arms, linked to the essential export of chromite from Turkey to Germany. Among other military supplies, this bought 34 Pkw IIIJ and 37 Pkw IVH tanks. These were known as T3 and T4 in Turkish service and equipped the 6th Tank Regiment, held in reserve at Ankara. Here is a T4.


Finally, Butlers also do the Citroën-Kégresse, an obscure and strange-looking interwar French armoured car which was supplied to Turkey. I was pleased to find a stat for this in Blitzkrieg Commander because I wouldn't know where to start!


That will do for this project for now. I would like to try a few conversions in 28mm for use in Bolt Action, but that will be for the future.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Turkish Foreign Policy 1943-1945

 This 1973 book by Edward Weisband is probably not one for the general reader. In fact, my copy was released by an American college library and I see from the slip that no one took it out! Which is a shame because it is a very impressive piece of scholarship.


It is not entirely clear to me why the author decided to start his analysis in 1943 rather than at the start of WW2. It may be a question of space, and it was the case that 1943 was a crucial year in the narrative of Turkey's involvement in the war. He includes a quote that I don't remember in Kinross's classic work on Ataturk, taken from a conversation with Douglas MacArthur in 1934. Ataturk predicted that war would break out around 1940 and that Germany would occupy all Europe other than Britain and the Soviet Union. He also declared that the Soviets would be the 'real victors' arguing that "The Bolsheviks have now reached a point at which they constitute the greatest threat not only to Europe but to all Asia."

Apart from the remarkable foresight, this view formed the basis of Turkish foreign policy throughout the war, and afterwards. The primary threat to the security of Turkey was the Soviet Union.

The other principle was peace at home and peace abroad. This was to enable national development to be prioritised over expansionism. This was in many ways remarkable for a political elite made up almost entirely of soldiers. A point covered well in Metin Tamoc's book, 'The Warrior Diplomats'. Having said that, I think Weisband is too accepting of this theme in the book. There are many times during the war that Turkey sought to expand its borders, pressing either the Germans or the Allies, depending on the state of the war at the time. Even if you dismiss, as Weisband does, the influence of Pan-Turanism (the expansion of Turkey to Turkic peoples in neighbouring countries, mostly Soviet republics), Turkish diplomats did press for territorial revisions in Bulgaria, Iraq, Syria, and the Aegean and Dodecanese islands.

Their focus on the Soviet Union didn't mean they ignored other threats, including Bulgaria, Italy and Nazi Germany. In particular, I hadn't appreciated that in 1935 Mussolini indicated a wish to annex the region around Antalya. British tourists today might be tucking into Pizza at this popular resort if matters had gone differently! Turkey may not have entered the war until February 1945, but its army was mobilised for most of the war.  

The author takes the reader through the various diplomatic stages with Churchill being the main driver of the Allied policy to get Turkey to enter the conflict. The Americans were not really bothered and more concerned that it would be a resource distraction from the Italian campaign and later Overlord. The Soviets faced both ways but latterly were also opposed. Turkey outside the war would be an easier target in the post-war settlement for their claims in eastern Turkey and the Straits.

Weisband describes the Turkish policy for avoiding entering the war as 'Operation Footdrag'. There was always another reason, diplomatic, military or practical to defer the decision. They did succeed in getting some modern weapons from Germany in return for Chromite shipments, and even more from Britain and the USA. However, the Turkish army had major deficiencies, which could not all be resolved with tanks and aircraft.

For most of the war, at least other than 1942, Turkish neutrality was exercised marginally in favour of the Allies. The Turks accepted the principle of their treaty obligations to Britain, even if they wriggled out of them militarily. This became more pronounced in the latter stages of the war when it became clear that the Allies would win. 

This is a sympathetic study of Turkish diplomacy in the second half of WW2. In the end, Weisband concludes that Turkey played small state diplomacy rather than Great Power politics and survived the conflict.

I am working on the 1943 additions to the Turkish army this week for my 15mm project. A delivery of 3D printed models means there is much cleaning up to do! 



 

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

The Norway Campaign and the Rise of Churchill 1940

 This year is the 80th anniversary of the Norway campaign of 1940. Sometimes forgotten in the light of the invasion of France, and it was the catalyst that brought Churchill to power in Britain. Somewhat ironically, as he hardly covered himself with glory during the campaign as First Lord of the Admiralty.

I have a few books on the campaign, but a new one was justified for the anniversary. Anthony Dix's account covers the campaign and the political events, primarily from a British perspective. I see you can get the Kindle edition for only £4.99 as I write.


This book covers the background to the campaign in more detail than most studies I have read, including the political context, the Winter War in Finland, and the need to cut off iron ore supplies to Germany from Sweden via northern Norway. The German Operation Weserbung plan is outlined, which included the invasion of Denmark. This gave the Germans air superiority over southern Norway and secured German naval supply lines into Oslo.

The Germans had some time to plan the campaign, unlike the British who improvised a plan, and it showed. For example, Brigadier Morgan, commanding 148 Brigade, had received four sets of often conflicting orders by the time he landed in Norway. I did enjoy the story of the Leicesters arriving at a hotel in Lillehammer, only to be told by the manager that the hotel had already been booked over the telephone by the Germans as their intended headquarters and that the new guests were expected shortly!

Not all troops were properly equipped for fighting in the winter conditions and the Royal Navy did not help matters by shifting troops between ships. This resulted in units arriving without support weapons, ammunition and other essentials. No French or British units had ever fought north of the Arctic Circle. Bizarrely the French sent the Foreign Legion, more suited for the desert than the snow-covered expanse of Norway.

The Norwegian Army was only partially mobilised when the invasion began and so was ill-equipped to make the best use of the defensive terrain. I have driven north from Oslo and the terrain is ideally suited to the defence, so long as your forces have artillery support and at least some air cover. Sadly, neither applied to the Norwegian Army, and the insertion of Allied troops was done on an ad-hoc basis, often creating command confusion.

Just one example from my trip.

From a strategic point of view, while the Germans lost a similar number of ships to the Royal Navy, it was proportionately much greater. This included half their destroyers, three cruisers and serious damage to two battleships. It is also debatable if the gains in occupying Norway were worth it. Yes, they had airbases that could strike Scotland, naval options for Atlantic incursions and attacking the Russian convoys, as well as the iron ore route. However, the cost of coastal defence was huge, and even at the beginning of 1945, there were 350,000 Germans stationed in Norway who otherwise might have been used more profitably elsewhere.

An often forgotten strategic gain for the Allies was the contribution the Norweigan merchant marine and its 25,000 crewmen made to the Allied war effort, which could have been lost had Norway capitulated. However, this cannot hide the 1940 debacle, for which the blame must rest upon the organisation at most levels, the staff officers, the higher command, above all the politicians – which includes Churchill.

This book is a welcome addition to the history of the Norway campaign. It lacks detail on the Norwegian and German perspectives but it covered aspects of the Allied actions that I hadn't read before.

I haven't any Norwegian troops but plenty of early war British, French and Germans. Just need some snow.